After the death of Jane’s father in battle and her mother from grief at the age of three, Jane was raised by Mrs. Bates and Miss Bates in Highbury. Several years later, Colonel Campbell, a friend of her father’s, took her into his family, where she became much beloved. This gave her the opportunity for a superior education, which is particularly critical as she will have insufficient inheritance for independence and must become a governess or marry well. She grows into a fine young lady alongside the Campbells’s own daughter, Miss Campbell, in good society.
As an orphan, Jane is dependent on the good graces of others. Had she not been taken in by her father’s friend, she would have remained in poverty and ignorance comparable to Miss Bates—and, perhaps, met a similar fate as the rather silly spinster. With education, she gains the talents and grace that might make her attractive to a husband. At the least, education gives her the opportunity for employment, which offers the opportunity for moderate financial security in a socially acceptable position.
With Miss Campbell recently married to Mr. Dixon, Jane anticipates her time with the Campbells drawing to a close. She has resolved at the age of twenty-one to seek a position as governess, and she desires to spend her remaining months of freedom with her kind relations in Highbury who love her so dearly.
Jane reveals her responsible and un-pretentious nature, as she readily prepares to remove herself from her guardians’ charity, giving up her life among high society to make her own way in the world.
Emma dreads her duty of calling on Jane, though she cannot quite find her own reasons for dislike justifiable: Jane’s coldness and reserve, Jane's aunt’s annoying chattiness, and the general fuss made over Jane. Mr. Knightley has suggested Emma dislikes Jane because Jane embodies all the accomplishment and elegance that Emma would like to be attributed to herself. Though Emma denies this, she feels a sense of guilt every time she sees Jane.
As with Frank, we meet Jane first through the impressions of others. By now we are accustomed to finding Emma’s perspective biased by vanity and fancy and Mr. Knightley’s sensible and discerning. Mr. Knightley's observations here set up Jane, another comparably accomplished and admired young woman, as a foil or rival for Emma.
When Emma encounters Jane this time, she admires her remarkable elegance and beauty. Emma feels compassion, too, for her impending poverty. However, Emma eventually relapses into her old dislike on Jane’s next visit, as Emma finds Miss Bates tiresome, Jane overpraised, and Jane’s manner “disgustingly . . . suspiciously reserved.” Emma is also disappointed that Jane will speak little of either Mr. Dixon or Frank Churchill, the latter of whom Jane encountered at Weymouth.
Emma is a constant work in progress, as she attempts to evaluate Jane fairly. Yet even after generously admiring Jane at their first reunion, she slips irresistibly into the same petty judgments and biases against Jane. Emma’s reasons for dislike remain shallow and motivated by her own fancy, as Jane’s greatest fault is her reserve and the admiration she draws from others.